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"But I have such a Great Catch!" Treating Abusive Controlling Relationships

Abusive Relationships continuing education MFT CEUs

Section 8
Predictors of Partner Violence

CEU Question 8 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last track we discussed methods for you to help your client, who feels he or she has gotten their "Great Catch," to connect some therapeutic "dots" of abuse, so to speak.

Now let's look at 5 "Urban Legends." What is an Urban Legend? An urban legend is a societal myth created to explain the unexplainable.

In case you are not too familiar with this colloquialism, I will use this term as meaning your client's explanations for their partner's abuse that do not produce growth and change. As I explain these five urban legends or myths, think of a client you are treating whom you may have overlooked providing this form of a reality check.

5 Urban Legends for the Partner's Abuse

Urban Legend or Myth #1 - Drugs and Alcohol
As you know, a common assumption among those that are abused is that drugs and alcohol caused the abusive behavior. While undoubtedly drugs and alcohol make abuse worse, it cannot actually cause the abuse to happen. As you will see with Denise, this is a subtle but crucial therapeutic point.

At first Denise had accepted alcohol as an excuse for Roberts name calling, put-downs, criticisms, and sarcasms, but in one session she stated, "Robert would call me dumb-ass and other names even without a couple of beers with his shot chasers." To dispel urban legend #1 with Denise, I explained to her that when Robert is drunk, he is and acts out of control. But, for all of his claims of being out of control, or that he could not help himself…Robert is making choices. I stated to Denise, "Consequently your hope that a rehab program is the total answer for producing change and creating the relationship of your dreams may not be realistic."

I provided Denise with a printout of the following fact sheet. The sheet stated, "According to National studies, although there is a high correlation between alcohol, or other substance abuse, and battering, it is not a casual relationship. Batterers use drinking as one of many excuses for their violence and as a way to place the responsibility for their violence elsewhere. Stopping the abusers' drinking will not stop the violence. Both battering and substance abuse need to be addressed separately, as overlapping yet independent problems." A reprint of this statement appears in the Manual that accompanies this home study course under the name of Facts versus Myths.

Do you have a client who could benefit from a review of the Fact versus Myth fact sheet found in you manual regarding urban legend #1, alcohol and substance abuse excuse making?

Urban Legend or Myth #2 - Unhealthy Childhood
I find a second common explanation for verbal as well as physical abuse is that an unhealthy childhood caused my "great catch" to act in an abusive manner. As you know, it is correct that childhood trauma can create adult problems. Like many other women, Denise heard stories from Bob about his abusive childhood. She stated "Nobody should have to live through that. I knew his spirit was gone, and I wanted to save him and give it back to him."

Who is your "Denise" that you are currently treating or have treated? Would a review of the following statistics be or have been helpful?

It is important to keep in mind, that while some men and women were abused as children and they may suffer from depression or other aftereffects, childhood abuse does not turn them into abusers. The National Institute of Health has indicated that approximately 65-85% of adults who were abused as children do not grow up to abuse their children. While someone may have had an unhealthy childhood, they still have the ability to make different choices.

I provided Denise with the fact that many families in which violence occurs do not produce verbally and physically violent abusive men. The power Robert had with Denise is a network that reflects legal, social, and economic inequities in society as a whole. In short, trying to "fix" his childhood and "fix" him was unrealistic by trying to provide a simple one-stop-shopping-type of solution to his name calling, put-downs, criticisms, and sarcasms.

Urban Legend or Myth #3 - Stress
Denise worked hard to alleviate Robert's stress. She spent countless hours cleaning the house, trying to cook "perfect" meals, taking care that their three- and five-year-old children did not "bug him" as Robert put it, and screening unwanted phone calls from bill collectors. Denise tried to create as much of a stress-free environment for Robert as she could. But you know the punch line, no matter how much stress she alleviated, there was always something that she couldn't foresee, or some new criteria for what was stressful for Robert on a particular day and what wasn't.

Think of your Denise whom you are treating. Have you overlooked reviewing the following? Think, as I stated the obvious to Denise, "Life is full of stress, but stress is never the sole 'cause' of abuse. We all have stress, and most are able to find ways of coping with it without abusing others." After several sessions Denise stated, "I would have never thought about taking stress and turning it into screams or put-downs for Robert or my children. If I can make this choice, Robert has the same choice. Doesn't he?" This dispelled Urban Legend or myth #3 that stress caused Robert's constant name calling, put-downs, criticisms, and sarcasms.

Urban Legend or Myth #4 - Insecurity
I am sure you have found, like I, that many women see insecurity as an excuse for justifying their partners' behavior. Robert was so uncertain of himself that reassuring him became a full time job for Denise. And, despite her efforts to compliment, soothe, comfort, and strengthen Robert's fragile ego, Denise reported, "I am a failure."

Think about Urban Legend or Myth #4, insecurity, if you will. To stand tall the Great Catch, Robert, has to keep his heal in Denise's neck. Do you see the visualization here of a man standing over "his woman" who is on the floor with his heal in her neck? This is the visualization Alice, another client created during a session. Her Great Catch was Rico. Ask yourself: Do you need to clarify the one-up status the "great catch" is creating? Do you need to provide the following insight via general global statements from Patricia Evans, Verbal Abuse: Survivors Speak Out, "I have found that many men depend almost entirely on a woman to make life comfortable and secure. If she fails to do it perfectly or if she resists, then his security is threatened, and he strikes back. The basis of his insecurity is his need to have subservience and dependence on him."

So what do you think? Do you need to review the insecurity urban legend or myth with one of your clients in their next session?

Urban Legend or Myth #5 - Inner Feelings: Popular psychology teaches that people should express their inner feelings. And, of course, there is a certain amount of truth in this basic therapy premise. However, where do you draw the line in this legendary version of the truth? How, when, and how much do you encourage the venting of anger, in the name of once it is out in the open your client will feel better. As you know this treatment strategy can be dangerous when given to a violent, controlling partner. Alice's boyfriend, Rico, already believed that he had the right to impose his moods on Alice.

Are you surprised to know that National Institute of Health studies have illustrated that people who vent their anger become even angrier. Sometimes these sessions lead to the encouragement of abusive people to "vent their emotions." The result is that they feel they have gained authoritative support for their explosive tirades. As you know, what Rico needed to do was to stop thinking so much about himself and his injured feelings. He needed to find more appropriate ways to express himself, but more importantly, he needed to stop his verbal assaults on Alice.

My rule of thumb is: Communication skills can only be taught once physical and verbal abuse has ceased.

5-Point Urban Legend or Myth Checklist
In summary, in your next session with your "Denise" or your "Alice" use the following five point urban
legend or myth checklist to see if it will be beneficial.

1. Is your client looking to the stopping of their partner's substance abuse as the answer?

2. Is your client trying to repair their "Great Catch's" unhealthy childhood as the solution to their abuse?

3. Is your client trying to create a perfect stress-free world for their partner to avoid abuse?

4. Does your client make a full time job of constructing a facade of inferiority to build up their Great Catch's sagging self image and insecurities?

5. Does your client read a lot of pop psychology and excuse their partner's abusive outbursts as a healthy venting of feelings?

After you assess the appropriateness of these 5 urban legends or myths for inclusion in a future therapy session, this will bring us to the next track. We will discuss reconstructing the reality of self-blame experienced by your client. The use of B-A-D questions will be presented.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Birkley, E. L., & Eckhardt, C. I. (Mar 2019). Effects of instigation, anger, and emotion regulation on intimate partner aggression: Examination of “perfect storm” theory. Psychology of Violence, 9(2), 186195.

Miles-McLean, H. A., LaMotte, A. D., Semiatin, J. N., Farzan-Kashani, J., Torres, S., Poole, G. M., & Murphy, C. M. (2019). PTSD as a predictor of treatment engagement and recidivism in partner abusive men. Psychology of Violence, 9(1), 39–47. 

Poole, G. M., & Murphy, C. M. (2019). Fatherhood status as a predictor of intimate partner violence (IPV) treatment engagement. Psychology of Violence, 9(3), 340–349.

Walling, S. M., Suvak, M. K., Howard, J. M., Taft, C. T., & Murphy, C. M. (2012). Race/ethnicity as a predictor of change in working alliance during cognitive behavioral therapy for intimate partner violence perpetrators. Psychotherapy, 49(2), 180–189.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 8
What are five urban legends or myths regarding solutions to abuse by the "Great Catch?" To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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